Last week I received the annual alumni catalogue-like newsletter from my old school, and last month the half yearly alumni magazine from my university landed on the doorstep. Neither of these have been picked up as I spend the rare time I have to read magazines and newspapers now reading them on my iPad. I therefore started to question whether these alumni newsletters could also be accessed digitally.

Paul Johnston, a Senior Consultant in the UK Marketing, Sales and Service practice looks at digital publishing and whether the demands of customers will drive digital adoption in publishing, and whether those creating content can keep pace with the readership.

Like the millions of iPad users worldwide there is a reason for my preference to access media on my iPad, rather than using hard copies.

  • the quality of magazines and newspapers on the iPad in my view provides a much richer reading experience,
  • the physical burden of having to carry around lots of pieces of paper is obviously reduced,
  • the cost of purchasing digitally is becoming more and more cost effective as opposed to buying the print version,
  • I can carry multiple magazines and newspapers in one place, enabling me to be spontaneous when deciding what to read, rather than planning what to squeeze into my bag in the morning and;
  • it avoids that Sunday morning rush to get to the local newsagents before they sell out of The Sunday Times…

The advantages of publishing digitally are also clear for the publishers

  • digital publishing offers new creative and attractive ways to deliver information,
  • their media can be available at any time to customers in any place,
  • costs that were previously associated with the distribution of publications can be reduced,
  • geographic availability is increased through the ecosystems that exist on the digital devices, meaning my old school would no longer need to post the booklet to former students in Hong Kong and Nigeria, but instead allow them to download it instantly,
  • embedded links to websites can be included in adverts, and for adverts to be in video or still format. This not only provides an enhanced the user experience compared to the traditional format, but the use of analytical tools such as Google analytics can increase the insight gathered from reader behaviour. And it enables easier direct engagement with readers, enabling a digital response to feedback or letters pages.

Digital publishing has evolved significantly throughout the early years of the 21st century, but the first media apps in 2009 really shook matters up. NME were one of the first to create an iphone app, rebranding itself at the time as ‘online, magazine, TV, radio, mobile’.

Whilst having media available through a web browser was a radical innovation at the time, the growth in tablets (and projected future growth), and to an extent ereaders, has led to increased expectations of how media companies share their content. The user centric approach should enable the readership to access articles offline, and should ensure that different content is clearly separated, to improve the user journey through a newspaper or magazine. We have seen a growth in demand for content to not only be accessible online, but in formats that are challenging for web browsers to provide.

This brings publishers to a place whereby they are at the whim of Apple, Android, Amazon etc. To deliver a true publishing experience, they need to go beyond the standard web browser experience, and deliver content tailored for the platforms on which it is delivered, but to do so requires specific expertise and can increase costs.

Unfortunately therefore, this threatens to derail any thoughts that small publishers may have at the moment to publish their magazines in the way that we are becoming accustomed to. A low cost solution is to create magazines as a pdf, but there remain distribution challenges, outside of email, and the user experience would be poor.

In time, hopefully tools and services will evolve to enable the ‘small guy’ to participate in sharing publications online at the standard that we expect. Publishing through an app, or another media service such as Flipboard remains out of reach for small organisations for now, and interim and low cost alternatives to will not deliver the service that we expect, and will not enable the level of digital interaction that you should aim for with the readership. When this changes though, organisations must be ready, and focus on delivering the same level of experience and engagement that customers and readers expect from other digital channels.